The Palestinian territories have been in a state of near anarchy over the last few weeks as Hamas and Fatah continue their sometimes violent in-fighting over which side should rule. It looks like Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is trying to force issues with Hamas by calling a referendum on a two-state solution in 10 days unless Hamas agrees to recognize Israel’s right to exist.
Hamas and Fatah are already perilously close to a real civil war as both sides have a legitimate presence in the Palestinian government and both control their own militant groups. Abbas is hoping that the referendum (which most think would pass) will resolve the issue, force Hamas to recognize Israel, and allow foreign aid to flow back into Palestine. It’s an extremely risky political gamble as while the majority of Palestinians would recognize Israel, especially within the 1967 borders, the terrorists who can destroy everything will never recognize Israel’s right to exist, and the Palestinian state is too weak and corrupt to stop them.
Any real peace in the region must begin with the Palestinians ending their support of terrorism. Unfortunately, neither Hamas nor Fatah has clean hands – both talk peace, but Hamas was a terrorist organization long before they were a political force, and the Al-Aqsa Martyr’s Brigade remains attached to Fatah. Abbas’ referendum would at least make it clear that the rejectionists are a minority in Palestinian society, but it’s still going to require the Palestinian Authority to make a real crackdown on terrorism – an event which could tear all of Palestinian society apart.
At the very least, this is a very tentative step in the right direction, and Abbas does seem willing to negotiate. However, the Palestinians can’t hope for a peaceable negotiated settlement until the campaign of terrorism is ended, or at least brought under control. The Israelis can’t compromise their own security for peace, and until the Palestinians can come to the negotiating table as full and honest partners, the Israelis will continue to unilaterally protect themselves from terrorism.